I am a Chennai-ite, and this has always meant dealing with auto drivers who are supremely dismissive of their customers, and us getting rides always depended on the rare occurrences of their condescension. This hate-hate relationship of customers with auto drivers was spawned by the drivers being encouraged in their exhortative behaviour by political goondas who owned and rented out thousands of auto-rickshaws.
One of my earliest memories (80’s) is of my father fighting with an auto-driver who agreed to go from Ayanavaram to Shanti Colony (Anna Nagar East) for 10 rupees, but demanded twelve rupees when we were halfway through, near ICF. My father, a man of principle, was unskilled in bargaining but very skilled at getting himself riled up, made the driver stop, paid him a full ten rupees for the half distance and walked my mother and carried me the rest of the way in the hot sun. No experience with auto drivers since has made me change my opinion of them as greedy and always bargain for more than the set kilometer rate, since then.
But, these days my auto rides in Chennai are accompanied by a sense of surreal and furtive joy that feels like it will be snatched away any moment and I snap back out of my dream into reality where auto fares are back to normal. (Normal = exorbitant, see?). In fact I think that this ‘fair pricing’ won’t last and in fact, can’t last, because it is too good to be true. I walk away from an auto after having paid exactly 32 rupees according to the meter and I wasn't abused in face-turns-blue language and rage? Did the driver just nod politely and proceeded to bend down to start the engine? What the hell has happened to real life and more importantly, can this wonderfulness continue at all?
In an aside - Is that a vague sense of guilt I feel when I pay the price on the meter, like I have cheated the auto driver of his deserved extra (for which they usually work hard by arguing and playing a great game of negotiation) money?
Thanks to Amma, our own puratchithalaivi Ms.J.J, we pay what fair prices for auto rides as of the last one-two months, and the disbeliever that I am, I don’t think this will last. Regime change will happen, because while for me this is a change/difference big enough to re-vote her into office, it is not for a lot of people. Or the RTO offficers that are hounding these auto-wallas if they spot one without a re-calibrated meter now because of pressure from their bosses who are under pressure from Amma, will soon lose steam, because that is what normally happens, and slowly the meters will go into disuse and the earlier negotiation system will come back into force again. And normalcy will return.